How to Pack for Backpacking with a Toddler

Backpacking has always been one of my favorite ways to spend time outdoors! I love the feeling of carrying everything I need on my back into the wilderness, setting up camp in a gorgeous location, and getting to spend a night far away from other people and responsibilities. So when I became a mom, I wanted to keep backpacking and be able to bring Elliott along with me. But it was really tough trying to figure out how to carry gear for both of us – let alone carry Elliott too! The first time I went backpacking with him without my husband I almost couldn’t close my backpacking pack because it was so full (it was a lot smaller than the one I have now!), was in so much pain from all the shoulder and waist straps doubled up from wearing both a carrier and a backpacking pack, and was completely overwhelmed setting up camp with a baby. After a year of backpacking and camping with Elliott I’m finally getting the hang of packing and have a system down that works for us, plus I finally think I’ve figured out what gear works for me and a toddler (I actually have a separate set of gear that I use when I backpack kid free!). While I’m definitely not an expert, especially in backpacking with my son in a tent, I’ve done enough cabin trips with my toddler that I’ve finally figured out a good list of things that I pack almost every time. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about what I pack and what gear I use so I wanted to share my packing list on here!

Hiking gear:

  • Gregory Jade 63 pack
  • Trail Magik backpacking carrier (this carrier clips directly onto your backpacking pack!)
  • Cascade Mountain Tech Poles

Sleeping Gear:

  • Tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur 3 Person Tent
  • Sleeping Pad: Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core SLX Double Pad
  • Quilt: Nemo Tango Duo Slim 30 Degree Quilt
  • Pillow: Klymit Luxe Camping Pillow
  • Baby Sleeping Bag: Morrison Outdoors Little Mo 40 Degree Bag

Cooking Gear:

  • Jetboil stove and a can of fuel
  • Emergency matches
  • GSI camp mug
  • MSR folding spork
  • Sawyer Squeeze water filter
  • Nalgene bottle
  • Straw water bottle for Elliott (he drinks more when he has his own bottle and not just a straw in mine)

Miscellaneous Gear (some of this can be cut to reduce weight):

  • An extra outfit for both of us (since we are in Alaska this layer is usually a warmer fleece layer to sleep in and I’ll wear my dirty clothes out the next day) including extra socks
  • Extra layers (either a rain jacket, a puffy jacket, or both depending on the forecast) and a hat and gloves for both of us
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, bear spray, and bug spray in the summer
  • Handwarmers and Buffs in the winter
  • Lightweight camp shoes like Crocs
  • Toiletries (toilet paper, contact stuff, glasses, and toothbrush/toothpaste)
  • First aid kit with stuff for both me and Elliott (I always bring Children’s Motrin just in case)
  • Diapers and wipes and an empty gallon ziplock bag for the dirty diapers
  • A small microfiber towel
  • An extra carrier for Elliott if we plan on moving around after setting up camp
  • A book and a toy for Elliott (it’s extra weight but 100% worth it to us because it keeps my child super happy and distracted while I’m doing camp chores!)
  • A trash bag. This can be used for so many things: lining your pack so your gear won’t get wet in the rain, a makeshift “seat” on wet ground, a “changing pad”, and in a few cases this summer I used it to help cover the windows of a cabin to keep the midnight sun out of our eyes!
  • A headlamp in the fall/winter/spring and extra batteries

For longer trips:

  • An Anker phone bank and a charging cord
  • Camp soap (can be used to wash clothes, dishes, and hands) – I don’t bother on one night trips but it’s worth the extra weight if you’re reusing your dishes and clothes more than a few days

Food: I don’t have a set food list. I currently bring one backpacking meal for dinner (anything by Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, etc.) and attempt to share it with Elliott. That honestly means that I’ve been bringing a lot of mac and cheese out on our trips, but at least I know he’ll eat that with me! For breakfast I bring packets of instant oatmeal and cook that in my camp mug, and for lunch I either pack PB&Js or an extra backpacking meal depending on the weather (I like warm lunch on cold or wet days!). I try to bring snacks that I know he will eat, however if we’re camping with someone else he only wants what the other kids are having and won’t eat anything I bring! Both of us tend to eat less while backpacking so I try not to stress about it and also have backup snacks waiting in the car for when we are finished with our trip.

Each time I plan a backpacking trip I like to gather all of my gear in a pile, pack it into my backpack, and then weigh it. I try to keep my bag around 20 pounds not including water, so if it’s over that I like to remove things that aren’t 100% necessary for that trip while still making sure we will be safe, fed, and warm out there. Once I add water for me and Elliott, and strap Elliott onto my front, I’m most likely over 50 pounds! It’s definitely uncomfortable and I tend to need breaks every hour or so because of the amount of weight I’m carrying, but it’s totally possible to carry your child and gear for both of you into the backcountry! I know that as Elliott grows I’ll need to adjust our gear choices and have new challenges with backpacking, but for a 1-2 year old child this worked for our family.

Have you ever backpacked with a toddler? Anything you’d add to my list?


6 thoughts on “How to Pack for Backpacking with a Toddler

  1. Great post! I recently went on a multi-day backpacking trip for my first time through Yosemite. I can’t imagine backpacking with a toddler but like with everything else if you start when they’re young it will just be the new normal for both the parent and child.

    1. Yes absolutely! I feel like I have to do something a ton of times with him to get the hang of it…and then he ends up being a little older and needing me to make changes to how I was doing everything! Kids are wild! Also I’m definitely jealous of your backpacking trip to Yosemite, that’s something that is on my bucket list!

  2. Great post! We did a backpacking trip with my daughter when she was one and it was so much fun, I don’t think anyone got too much sleep but it was worth it. I’m pregnant with my second now and my daughter is 2.5 so I don’t think we will be doing any long trips this summer but I’m excited for future hikes!

    1. Congrats on your new addition! Yeah the lack of sleep is so rough but it’s so much fun to look back on memories of the trip!

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